A captivating queer love story unfolds between two teenage magician's assistants in Shaun David Hutchinson's Before We Disappear.
Set against the beguiling backdrop of the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition, the shrewd, "pale as an egg" 16-year-old Jack works for the power-hungry magician, the Enchantress. Jack's mother died when he was six, forcing him to steal to survive--when the Enchantress caught him stealing from her, she groomed him to be her assistant. When greedy rival magician Laszlo appears at the fair eager to upstage the Enchantress, Jack quickly falls for Laszlo's shy, blue-eyed assistant, Wilhelm. While sneaking out to visit Wil, Jack learns Laszlo kidnapped the young man 12 years ago, when he was four. Laszlo now exploits Wil's secret ability to travel invisibly and move objects from place to place. Jack vows to help Wil escape to safety, but it's dangerous to cross Laszlo. "Since kidnapping me, [Laszlo has] traveled the country with me and forced me... to commit all manner of crimes," Wil reveals to Jack. "He threatened me that if I tell anyone, try to ask for help, or run away, he'll murder me or anyone I know."
Hutchinson (At the Edge of the Universe; We Are the Ants) compellingly crafts dysfunctional relationships between the young men and their magician bosses/pseudo-parents. Despite daily bouts of psychological and emotional manipulation, Jack and Wil still seek attention and approval from the magicians, who are the only family they know. As the narrative switches between Wil and Jack, Hutchinson maintains an undercurrent of unease and suspense, as each flirts with their own agency and one another. Hutchinson successfully blends the historically rich setting with a gritty, desperate fantasy love story. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms